Drive through some parts of the region -- Howard County especially -- and you'll see a lot of Creig Northrop. The president of the Creig Northrop Team at Long & Foster is smiling out from bunches of "For Sale" signs.
So many, in fact, that his team is No. 2 in the country for volume on the REAL Trends' Top 400 Sales Professionals list, and No. 6 for the number of deals struck.
Northrop, a real estate agent for more than 20 years, works in Maryland west of the Bay Bridge and in D.C. He chatted with me recently about the housing market, his business and why he thinks this is (really) a great time to buy.
Question: How long has your team appeared on the Top 400 list?
Answer: Ever since it existed. I was the one sort of advocating them to create one, and that was around 2005, 2004. ... At that time, I thought I was No. 1 in the country but there weren't any records so I couldn't prove it. ...
As long as they've done it, I've been No. 2. They should give me an award for perseverance.
Q: No. 1 keeps changing?
A: The guy who's there now has only been there two years. … His average sales price is $17 million. He sells a quarter of the properties we sell.
What's behind your team's volume?
A: We're always staying ahead of the market and trends, and we're consistently trying new things to sell properties quicker and to get the dollars even though the market is challenged. I call it the new normal. We're ensuring once we're selling the house, we're meeting the appraisers personally, so we're making sure it gets to the settlement table. We're pricing the properties right, and we're getting great buys for the buyers.
Q: Are you marketing differently?
A: In order to be successful in the market nowadays, you have to cater to three types of buyers.
Old school, which is newsprint ... along with the magazines, Washington Life, Baltimore magazine.
Then you have the new school. Every house has its own website; we have our own application for the iPhone. Of course, we have a website that gets 3.5 million hits a month. ...
Then you have the "echo boomers." All about texting. All of our houses have text riders. You can text a number -- all the pictures, information goes right to your phone. ... That echo boom is also social: Facebook, blogging, YouTube, all of that. ... We’re doing all of the above. Ultimately, every house is going to get its own Facebook page. You can rate your favorite house.
Q: How large is your team?
A: Forty full-time agents.
Q: Is it one of the largest teams in the state? How much is team size a factor in the ranking?
A: I've got to believe it's one of the largest. ... One of the things that's very important: We treat this real estate business like a business. it's run like a company vs. just basically waiting for the phone to ring.
Q: What's the average price of a home your team handles?
A: Around $400,000. We sell every price range.
Q: What's your sense of the housing market these days?
A: I think we're headed in the right direction now. I don't think people are waiting the way they did, and I think if they wait now, they'll be wrong.
Q: So you don't expect prices will continue to fall?
A: I do not, no. Because I think we have some great things coming in. I think everybody should start positioning themselves for prices to go up. Not the way they used to, at all -- a level that is healthy for the economy.
Q: Some predict that foreclosures will press down prices for a while yet. Do you think that concern is misplaced?
A: The biggest issue is jobs. Jobs is a big factor. We need people to have jobs. ... Foreclosures -- the banks have ... put them on [the market] sporadically, so it hasn't really affected us.
Q: What factors do you see that will lift prices in our area?
A: Our inventory keeps dropping. Supply and demand. The less the supply, the more the demand goes up. ... Last year, we averaged 97 percent of list price, and I'd say right now we're probably a little higher than that. It just tells you that it's in the right direction.Q:
What about the higher price ranges? How's that part of the market?
A: There's no question the upper end has had some tough times. … I am selling them; they are taking longer. And the other problem you get into with the upper end is comparables. One thing I recommend is to get an appraisal done. Get an appraisal now to see what you're dealing with. If you don't have any comparables within a five-, 10-mile radius, it's going to be a lot more challenging -- why not deal with that upfront?
Q: What else do you think people should know about the market?
A: It's a great time to buy. And I believe it's a great time to sell. ... I'm certainly not going to say it's a phenomenal market -- I'd say it's in the right direction. The sooner you make the decision to buy or sell, the better off you're going to be.
Q: I think there's reasonable skepticism about "great time to buy" because people heard that while the market was booming and all through the bust. What would you say to those folks?
A: I wouldn't recommend to you what I wouldn't do myself. So obviously I’m looking at buying properties now, because I know by 2011, September 2011, there are a lot of boots that have to be in their desks [for BRAC]. ...
I'm telling you, you should buy up to September 2011, because at that point, I predict the market will change in the favor of appreciation.
Q: Where are you buying?
A: Howard, Odenton, ... any of the areas around there. ... We've got properties we're developing to sell to builders. I'm very much in the real estate mode. I always tell buyers, I wouldn't tell you to do what I wouldn't do, and I'd be buying right now. I am buying right now.
On the seller side, they say, 'Creig, I can't get exactly what I want to sell my house.' Well, guess what? ... You'll make it up on the buy end even if you get a little less for your property than you wanted to get.
Someone in the biz you'd like to see a Q&A with? Comment away.
Previous Q&As have included real estate agent Pat Hiban, auctioneer Paul Cooper and Real Estate Intervention agent Mike Aubrey. See the whole list here.